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El-Abd signs up to help Bristol City beat the drop, Morsy returns to drive Chesterfield’s promotion bid
Adam El-Abd signs up to help Bristol City beat the drop
With Bristol City still deeply involved in the relegation battle in League One despite the mid-season arrival of Steve Cotterill, it was no surprise to see the Robins enter the January transfer market in order to fine-tune a squad capable of pulling clear from trouble. Peterborough striker Tyrone Barnett and Millwall defender Karleigh Osborne have both arrived at Ashton Gate alongside Adam El-Abd, who comes in on a 3-and-a-half year deal. Bolstering a defence that has shipped 39 goals in 25 games so far has been a priority for Cotterill and Osborne, who impressed in a month long loan before he signed permanently, as well as El-Abd will provide a strong reinforcement to the back-line.
Osborne came on as a half-time substitute in a draw with MK Dons a fortnight ago and El-Abd started, going straight into the squad just days after signing for the club. The Egyptian centre-half had spent his entire career at Brighton and Hove Albion after coming up through the youth ranks, making over 300 appearances before leaving for pastures new after drifting towards the fringes of the Brighton squad. The 28-year-old had made just 11 appearances for the Seagulls this season and decided it was time to leave the AMEX in order to join Cotterill’s quest to avoid relegation in the league below.
“I sat and waited for my chance at Brighton, then I got it and for one reason or another it didn’t quite work out for me down there. I had good times on the whole during my 20 years down there,” he said, “It is sad to leave and I didn’t take the decision lightly, but I felt I needed to make the decision for my future career.” El-Abd, who can also play at right-back, had lost his place to Gordon Greer and Matthew Upson under coach Oscar Garcia and despite making 6 starts in Greer’s absence in January, the defender was allowed to leave in the search for first-team football. “We wanted to keep Adam in the squad but we understand his position: at his age, he wants to play every game,” Garcia said.
Resilience, character and experience are the characteristics that Cotterill will be looking for in the spine of his squad as he aims to keep Bristol City up and El-Abd, who has seven caps for Egypt, will no doubt provide those traits. “Adam is a tough cookie and brings a wealth of experience to the club. Any good back four needs someone like Adam” said Cotterill, “he’s capable of playing football from the back and we’re delighted to have him here to complement the good defenders already on our books”. The 49-year-old manager is excited about what the transfer, made for an undisclosed fee, will bring in terms of galvanising his struggling squad, saying “If he’s half as popular here as he is at Brighton then that will be great, and I know he will be.”
Thrust straight into the deep end for the game with MK Dons, El-Abd’s debut for his new club was no doubt an eventful one. Perhaps a bit of rustiness from a lack of games let Ben Reeves in for Dons’ opener whilst the ease with how the defence parted for Reeves’ second, coming from a well-worked set-piece, will concern Cotterill but he may attribute that to the lack of time his new signing has had to adapt to his team-mates. The fight and the determination that El-Abd is supposed to embody was especially prevalent in the second half however as Sam Baldock netted 2 goals to salvage a vital point.
The Dons, in the hunt for a play-off place, attacked strongly after conceding the equaliser, going close through George Baldock and Dean Bowditch, though City’s defence, led by the know-how of the wily El-Abd, held firm for a draw. It was an encouraging afternoon for the Robins in terms of showing the desire that will be needed as they approach the season’s run-in.
It was an encouraging afternoon for the Robins in terms of showing the desire that will be needed as they approach the season’s run-in and the signing of El-Abd has pleased fellow centre-half Aden Flint who welcomes his experience and ability to organise with open arms. “He’s just what we need at this moment in time” said Flint, “we’ve had a really inexperienced back-line all season and we’ve had to learn very quickly. Adam has been there, seen it and done it and has played more games than any of us. He is vastly-experienced and that is probably something we have lacked”. Flint’s encouraging words came prior to partnering the Egyptian at the back for Saturday’s visit to Molinuex to play Wolverhampton Wanderers and again for the trip to Brentford on Tuesday night.
However not a lot could be concluded from the two games the Robins, rather predictably, crashed to the two promotion chasing sides in back-to-back 3-1 defeats. Playing in Cotterill’s 5-3-2 system alongside Greg Cunningham, neither Flint or El-Abd could put up much resistance to the fire-power of the sides that now sit 1st and 3rd in the league. A vibrant first-half performance, spearheaded by the two-goal Nouha Dicko was enough for Wolves on Saturday afternoon before Brentford’s array of attacking talent had the game seen off by the interval on Tuesday. El-Abd’s influence however, having had a few weeks to settle in at Ashton Gate, will be measured in his upcoming matches against relegation rivals Oldham and Carlisle, and mid-table Coventry, in which points will be realistically targeted as they aim to pull away from the relegation dogfight.
Sam Morsy driving Chesterfield’s promotion bid
Meanwhile, in the league below Bristol City, Chesterfield had experienced a bit of a slump in form as they aim for promotion, being knocked off top spot over the new year. The Spireites had managed just one win in five, a 4-0 rout at Bury, to see them fall from 1st to 4th in January. A 3-0 defeat at Southend was a low point but a 2-2 draw with fellow promotion chasers Rochdale and a 1-3 win at struggling Northampton pulled them back up to 2nd. Playing in each of the last 3 games was Sam Morsy, the midfielder who is perhaps just happy to be out on the field after returning from a knee-injury.
The 22-year-old Wolverhampton-born Egyptian, who suffered a knee-injury at Bristol Rovers back in October, had been restored to the first-team just a week earlier in the win over Bury and he did not take long to make his mark at Southend, picking up a booking in the very first minute. Despite the poor result however, it was marked that Morsy was one of the few Chesterfield players to emerge from the game with any credit.
After suffering a medial collateral ligament tear against Bristol Rovers, he missed ten matches after appearing in 13 of Chesterfield’s first 14 matches of the season. The injury was bemoaned by first-team coach Kevin Lynch who best summed up his importance to the team. “It’s a big loss for the team, Sammy’s been an integral part of how we’ve been playing so far this season”. Morsy’s huge impact on Chesterfield has become clear since his return as on Tuesday Paul Cook’s men again secured another victory, winning 0-2 at York City to move back above Scunthorpe to the top of League Two. With his energy and solid positional sense patrolling the midfield, it is clear the importance of the role Morsy has in the side as Chesterfield begin to pick up ominous form since his return.
Morsy’s discernible influence was also clear at Sixfields on Saturday as a midfield, in which he was partnered by Jimmy Ryan and Gary Roberts, performed strongly as Chesterfield came from behind to blow away the Cobblers on the counter-attack. It was Morsy, producing some good work on the right-side, who played a big role in Dan Gardner’s 25th minute equaliser, sending over the cross that the winger poked past goalkeeper Matt Duke.
Former Port Vale midfielder Morsy had been a vital cog in Paul Cook’s 4-3-3 system, driving the midfield with his energy and bite in the tackle as well as his intelligent passing vision and it is perhaps no coincidence that Chesterfield have endured indifferent form during his absence, winning just 5 of the 11 matches played since his injury. However Morsy is back, “I’m delighted to be back. It’s been frustrating on the sidelines,” he said, and ready to play a big part in Chesterfield’s hunt for promotion.